From the weirdly wonderful to the seriously highbrow, Ohio is home to just about every type of attraction you can imagine. Fields of giant concrete corn? It’s got it. A museum dedicated to lucky cats? Yep. The world’s largest earthwork effigy? But of course... If you’re heading to the Buckeye State, get ready to experience all the wild, wacky, and downright awesome experiences it has to offer with our round-up of the “20 Best Things to do in Ohio For First-Timers”.
20. Campbell Hill, Bellefontaine, Ohio
If you want to come back from your trip with a sense of achievement and a rightful claim to fame, head to Campbell Hill. On your return, you’ll be able to boast of having visited the highest point in the state (although if you want to keep your bragging rights, don’t go telling anyone it’s only 1549 feet above sea level).
19. Judy's Jungle, Cleveland, Ohio
Like animals but don’t like seeing them in cages? Then save your conscious (and, to be fair, your money) by visiting Judy's Jungle. Set within the wilds of Cleveland’s suburbs, Judy's Jungle is a huge garden home to all the usual shrubs, trees, and plants you’d expect – plus a mammoth collection of life-size, fiberglass animals. If we’re being honest, it’s not the most well maintained of gardens, but given it’s probably the only one you’ll find a giant praying mantis snuggling up to a fatherly looking T-Rex, it’s still one that’s worth a visit.
18. The Cincinnati Mushroom House, Cincinnati, Ohio
If you want to round off your visit to Ohio with a trip to one of its more “unique’ tourist attractions, don’t miss the Cincinnati Mushroom House. Over a ten-year period, late owner Terry Brown transformed what was once a bog-standard Cincinnati bungalow into a weird and wonderful fairytale creation with a distinctly fungal appearance... over ten years since his death, his creation lives on as one of Hyde Park’s most beloved landmarks.
17. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Columbus, Ohio
With free admission and the world’s largest collection of cartoon and comic-related paraphernalia, there’s a lot to love about Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. With everything from original art, books, magazines, journals, and comic books to archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings, comic fans could spend all day browsing its exhibits and still want to come back the next for more.
16. Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor, Cincinnati, Ohio
If you’re visiting Ohio during the hot days of summer, cool your boots and tickle your taste buds at the kitschy delight that’s Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor. The art deco wonder is set in the same building as the Cincinnati Museum Center (also worth a visit) and is as much an attraction for its vintage décor, Formica tabletops, and pastel tiles as it is for its generous portions of local favorite Graeter’s Ice Cream.
15. James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Mentor, Ohio
For an insight into the rich history of Ohio, the James A. Garfield National Historic Site offers an unparalleled experience. Set in the former home of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, the site houses a huge collection of artifacts and exhibits from the period, giving visitors the rare opportunity to step back in time and experience what it must have been like to be part of the crowds that gathered around the house during Garfield’s presidential campaign.
14. North Market, Cincinnati, Ohio
With a claim to being Ohio’s only public market, North Market is worth a few hours of anyone’s time. Although small, there’s a vast array of cuisine types and products on offer, with everything from fresh meat and produce to baked goods, cheese and flowers. Visit on a Sunday to check out the superb display of local artwork, furniture, and jewelry on display (although don’t be too disappointed if you can’t make a Sunday, the tempting array of foodstuffs on offer throughout the week will still make for a worthwhile visit).
13. American Sign Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio
The neon wonder that’s the American Sign Museum is a sight to behold. Created by Tod Swormstedt (grandson of H. C. Menefee, the first editor of Sign of the Times), the museum is a celebration of all things beautiful, elaborate, colorful, and neon. With some of the signs dating back to the 1800s, expect to see ads for everything from haberdashers, cobblers and druggists to a single-arch McDonald’s sign featuring the pre-Ronald “Speedee” character.
12. The Great Serpent Mound, Peebles, Ohio
Fancy seeing the largest earthwork effigy in the world? Then head to Peebles, Ohio, where a 1,330-foot-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy awaits you. The history of the mound is shrouded in mystery, although most historians believe it was built somewhere between 1000 CE and 1550 CE by the Fort Ancient peoples who populated the area at that time. Regardless of who made it and when, the sight of the giant serpent winding its way through the valley is a sight to behold.
11. Harry Andrews' Chateau Laroche, Loveland, Ohio
If you want to see just what one 55-year-old man and a plan can do, take a trip to Harry Andrews' Chateau Laroche. Created almost single-handedly by World War I veteran and medieval enthusiast Harry Andrews, the chateau took over 50 years to finish, with Andrews building its walls from the stones of the nearby Little Miami River, and, once the supply had extinguished, crafting his own bricks from cement and quart milk cartoons. The castle itself is monumental but equally worth an hour or so of your time are the peaceful outside gardens and greenhouse… although if you’re of a nervous disposition, beware of the ghosts that are said to haunt the walkways.
10. Lucky Cat Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio
If you like quirky, you’ll love the Lucky Cat Museum in Cincinnati. Home to over 2000 waving felines, the museum is one of the largest celebrations of the iconic Maneki-Neko in the world. Every conceivable variation on the theme is on display, from plush cats and toy cats to ceramic cats and glass cats – if a version of the lucky cat has been made, it’s likely to be on display in this weird and wonderful collection. The Lucky Cat Museum is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday from 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm.
9. Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
For art lovers, a visit to the Toledo Museum of Art is a must-do. With a vast collection of pieces from old masters like Rembrandt and Rubens, modern legends like Willem de Kooning, Henry Moore, and Sol LeWitt, and one of the world’s most exquisite collections of glass art from the 19th and 20th centuries, this internationally renowned museum is one of Ohio’s most celebrated gems.
8. The Caves of Hocking Hills State Park, Logan, Ohio
There are beautiful parks and then there’s Hocking Hills State Park. Unquestionably one of the jewels in Ohio’s national park system, the park is a wonderland of natural, untouched beauty, spectacular rock formations, deep winding gorges, mysterious caves, and fascinating history. Take an afternoon to explore the numerous caves that line the park, with Old Man’s Cave (so named after the hermit who sheltered there in the 1700s) and Ash Cave (named after the huge mounds of ash created by Native Americans found within its wall) being two of its most famous.
7. Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio
Film fans visiting Ohio shouldn’t miss a day trip to the Ohio State Reformatory, the iconic setting of The Shawshank Redemption. Built in the late 1880s and shut for good in 1990, it’s now a popular destination for tourists willing to take on the spirits said to haunt its hallways. For would-be ghost hunters, the prison’s two chapels, infirmary, the solitary confinement section, and the warden’s office are said to be the most active hotspots for paranormal activity.
6. Cornhenge, Dublin, Ohio
For fans of curiosities, Cornhenge is a dream come true. The site, which was commissioned in 1994 by the Dublin Arts Council, consists of huge, 109-foot-tall ears of white concrete corn. Each 1500 lb. cob has been placed at a slightly different angle, making each otherwise identical piece appear uniquely different from its counterparts. Although its generally seen as a lighthearted, fun piece of art, there’s a serious side to the work, as it’s designer, local artist Malcolm Cochran, points out. “My choice of white concrete was deliberate to mimic, in a subliminal way, the rows of crosses in Arlington National Cemetery. It is ultimately a memorial to agriculture and, by extension, to a way of life and regional identity that been replaced by corporate office complexes and housing developments. Five bronze plaques trace the history of land use at the site, from Native American time to the present.”
5. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio
Even if you’ve only a casual interest in the history of popular music, you’ll kick yourself for leaving Ohio without visiting one of its most iconic centers. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is a celebration of all things rock ‘n’ roll, with memorabilia and artifacts from the many legends that have put their stamp on rock history. The Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall is where you’ll find exhibits on the roots of rock and roll, along with collections dedicated to individuals like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. On the first floor, you’ll find a great little café, along with the stage used by the museum for special performances and events. Visit the third floor for the Hall of Fame, and the top two levels for temporary exhibits on the likes of Elvis Presley, the Supremes, the Who, U2, John Lennon, and The Clash.
4. Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
During the warmer months, there are few things quite so pleasurable as an afternoon at the gorgeous Eden Park in Cincinnati. Spread over 186 acres of green space, the park is the perfect place to enjoy some breathtaking views over the city, not to mention a stroll through the beautifully fragranced magnolia garden or a picnic by one its numerous picturesque lakes.
3. Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio
If you want to take in some art while you’re in Ohio, the Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the best places to do it. Home to over 60,000 works encompassing 6,000 years of history, the museum offers visitors the chance to take in the glorious talents of such famed artists as Sandro Botticelli and Claude Monet. While there’s no denying the quality of the exhibits, you’ll likely be just as impressed by the building itself, which is one of the oldest and most spectacular in the city.
2. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, Ohio
If you’re visiting Ohio’s capital, take a pitstop at the stunning Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Set over 88 acres, the site has enough to keep you entertained for days. If hours, rather than days, is all you have, plan to at least include a visit to the engaging Discovery Station in the Children’s Garden, a stroll to Scotts Miracle-Gro Company Community Garden Campus, and a demonstration of glass blowing techniques at the Hot Shop.
1. Crystal Cave, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
First of all, yes- there really is a place called Put-In-Bay. Second of all, Crystal Cave is, despite the name, not a cave at all, but rather the world’s biggest geode (which, in case you didn’t know, is a hollow rock filled with masses of crystals or mineral matter). Since its discovery in 1887, Crystal Cave has become one of Ohio’s most celebrated tourist attractions, drawing thousands of visitors each year to wonder over its stunning natural beauty. Once you’ve done exploring the cave, make the most of the surrounding attractions by taking the accompanying Heineman winery tour, which, according to some, is worth the visit alone.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn